I really have to get better at this whole blog thing and not just post when Im travelling. Incidently Im off today to the beautiful (when it doesnt rain) west coast to do a wedding later in the week for a friend. My usual excuse applies in that I have been busy, honestly I have been, but in case the tax man is reading, business is desperate! Its now the end of my wedding season and yes I do do weddings but this weeks is the last one I have booked. Im not really interested in being a wedding photographer per se, rather a photographer who occasionally does weddings. Its the photography that interests me and although I was asked by a local venue to be official photographer for the site the idea of going to the same place taking similar pictures week after week just fills me with dread. I love hearing peoples stories and yes I suppose I am a romantic at heart but I see the photos telling the story of the people, as well as the day. I suppose its hard to explain but then again thats why I only do a few per year and only if I really really want to tell the peoples stories. That might come across as arrogant (would fit in with the wedding photographers rightly) but my view is that this is my job, I have to enjoy my job and if I enjoy it that comes across in my photos. I tell that often enough to my students so I’d be a bit hypocritical if I didnt practise that myself. So other than weddings Ive been doing a fair bit of dance photography. As with the weddings I’d love to show you the pictures but they arent stock images so arent for sale, plus the dance photos are embargoed until the performances and brochure materials get produced so I’ll save that for a later blog.
I’d love to say I’d been out on the boat, fishing away in the lovely weather we have had but I’d be lying on both counts. The weather has been terrible and the boats engine broke down. Thankfully the engine went as we were casting off so no harm done other than 3 weeks waiting for parts to come from America that didnt work! I then couldnt get the boat in for repair due to bad weather and only having the backup engine to get the boat from the marina to the harbour ramp. Eventually I got one evening when I thought it was calm enough to get the boat in and you know when you utter something incredibly stupid and know you will live to regret it? Well when asked how I would get the boat in I replied ‘by being assertive’. Well let me tell you no amount of bravado or assertiveness can make an 18 foot boat go into a 15 knot headwind with a 4hp backup engine. Its at this point you know bringing a fresh battery for the emergency VHF was a good idea and that you hope the liquid running down the back of your legs is only sweat. All was well though and I now have an expensive driveway ornament until work calms down a bit and I get the chance to work on it. I do have an engine manual but following some of the steps would have required a wetsuit and flippers whilst still in the marina. It reminds me of the time I replaced the engine in my old fiesta car. Followed the haynes manual to the letter through all 200 steps of engine removal, seal and gasket replacement and putting back in again. Step 201 of course had the ‘note – remember to put the flange between the engine and gearbox correctly’. Oh that would be the thing left lying on the floor there. 399 steps to go…
Speaking of car repairs, I got the Alfa up and running again….
In the very few times it hasnt been pishing out of the heavens Ive also managed to get out and get some stock photography work done. Bit unfortunate for this whole radharcimages project that Ive had 20 days of good weather in 2 years and been working for clients for most of them! The Irish side of the project is well and truely stalled and this is the primary reason.
Ive more usuable images from USA/Canada in a month than the whole of Ireland in probably the last year. Still there should be some good crisp clear winter days to get some work done but with limited daylight it might not be economically viable for more than a full days journey.
I eventually got all my Canada/US travel images edited, captioned and uploaded so now Im looking for a new project so I’ll be off on my travels again, this time I’m going back to Hong Kong for a week. Ive been there twice before. Once before the British handover and again the year later. Two completely different trips but not for handover reasons. The first time I went for a week and I had booked the trip with my then girlfriend. Of course by the time we came to go on the trip we werent boyfriend/girlfriend any more. I dont really need to explain too much more, do I?
The following year I went out there with two mates for the weekend. Yes the weekend – £250 quid flights and accomodation from Belfast, out on Thurs night, back on Tues. We drank the whole flight there… I dont really need to explain too much more, do I? I’ll go into that trip more when I cover the next one but I must have been drunk the whole time as my house is full of chinese furniture!
Whilst the total rainfall in Hong Kong for November is about the same as the total rainfall in my garden this morning, I have been thinking about getting the place ready for winter. Whilst out doing some stock photos of barley crops I got talking to some farmers who say we are in for some snowfall later in October. So Im prepared this time with the snow shovel, snow chains, gloves, hat, spare clothes, etc for all those car emergencies, or alternatively I’ll just light a coal fire, crack open the bushmills and just look out the window.
Well it has been over a month since I got home and well over a month since my last blog post. When I wrote the last blog post I was still sitting in Canada, pretty much packing up and ready to get the flight home. Did I say ready? Well prepared to get the flight home is more appropriate.
Its hard to believe its been a month already, just as it was hard to beleive a month traveling had gone by. In the last few weeks Ive been catching up with my other photo work, getting back in touch with students, starting to wade through the thousands of images to be edited, captioned and uploaded to various sites and sitting watching the rain bounce off the windows.
Its been a tough couple of weeks, not just from the work perspective and the fitting it all in whilst trying to get a house and everything back to normal. The boring mundane ordering of heating oil and cutting the grass dont quite compare to flying over nigara falls in the helicopter but they have to be done.
Its also been a wrench leaving my friends, its not that I dont have good friends here but there is something about traveling together that bonds people. I have 3 close friends that I have traveled the world with and I remember the first day they met, it was down in dublin airport and none of them had met before. I had traveled with them all individually but not as a group so hadnt even considered the dynamics. Our first task as a unit was to report all our luggage missing on arrival so it was a baptism of fire. There is something about the bonds of friendship made whilst traveling that go beyond normal friendship and I have that in abundance now with my friends here, in Canada and in South America.
People have asked what the highlight of the trip was, of course there are loads of things I could mention and already have in the blog but like my trip to South America there is one thing that stands out for me, the people I travelled with and the people I met. Whilst I didnt quite need emergency room treatment as in Buenos Aires, I was treated like a friends by strangers and welcomed into the family by people who didnt need to do that.
Oh but here, did I mention we got buzzed by a crop duster in North Dakota?
With the recent events in London and indeed Belfast it is sometimes easy to draw the conclusion that the world is going to hell and in a bloody quick manner but when someone in nowheresville Iowa comes over to your table and asks how you are and what you are doing there and recommends the platter then its not that bad. When you are invited to a family barbecue even though you arent part of the family but feel like it by the end of the evening then it shows there are more good people than bad in the world.
But Im not knocking the sales of water cannon photos or soldiers on the streets.
It was my first trip to Canada and definitely wont be the last, I felt at home there, I felt as though it was the same as here only different. Ive been so taken with the place I spent the first couple of weeks looking at visa regulations and work permits and the like. There is a danger that the grass is always greener and boy if I complain about the winters here then…
…well you get the point.
I have always been a traveler, even when I didnt know it, its not really about the start or the end or even the bit in the middle, its about the journey as a whole, its not so much about what you see but how it affects you and what you do about it afterwards. Its about meeting people and seeing that we are pretty much the same the world over, we want to be fed and a roof over our head and if we can all have a laugh in the process, so much the better. The world financial system can go down the toilet but as long as you can put food on the table, thats pretty much all that should matter.
I am back to earth with a bump here but it is home and always will be home, I missed the soft grass and the soft rain (ok Ive had enough of that already) and sitting out on the lough fishing as the sun goes down is now an experience having met someone who has never seen the sea. Not to mention the freshly caught mackerel barbequed with friends.
Im waxing lyrical about the trip and the place but I’ll bring it back to the people, it would not have been half as much fun without the old and new friends on the trip and I think if we’d sat in the house for a month it would have been equally as enjoyable.
Just saying thank you isnt really enough, I am a wee boy from the Falls Road in Belfast, I should never have seen the things Ive seen (good and bad) and would never have imagined Id have been to the places I only ever read about or saw on a wee small black and white portable tv as a kid. That means its all an experience, its all good (even the bad bits).
Life is not a rehearsal so even if its just lying on the grass, sitting out in the rain, go and do something you havent done before, say yes to something you would normally say no to and see what happens along the way.
So thanks to everyone I met in the US/Canada, its been emotional Its also been great craic and would I do it again – 4 weeks ago I’d probably have said no, now I’ll say maybe, in 4 weeks time I’ll probably have a bag packed.
After Ive got the rest of the photos edited of course…. ..better get back to work and pull a few all nighters!
Not strictly true. As anyone who has ever owned a boat has told me, you always want a bigger one…
…thats until you start thinking of running costs and everything else associated with it.
Its that time of the year and the last couple of weeks have been spent recovering from the end of financial year rush, filing the paper receipts away to plod through them later in the year when filing the tax return and getting the garden in shape… did I say getting the garden in shape?
What I meant to say was that due to the severe winter cold, a bit of heavy rain earlier this year, part of the wall in the garden surrounding the studio has collapsed. Not quite as dramatic as it sounds but I wanted to get something done before it turned into a drama and a crisis. When I got the studio built a couple of years ago a fair bit of the garden had to be excavated to put the foundations in and a lot of the soil was just dumped onto what passed for a garden. It was tidied up with an eye to doing something with it in the future. A couple of years later and its decided to plot its own course.
I am not a gardener. I have a photographers garden. Its quite simple, if the sun is shining and its gardening weather, Im away from the garden taking pictures. When its cloudy and rainy I look out at my ‘garden’ and think that I really should have built a walkway out to the studio through the garden so I dont get wet.
The upshot is that about 25 tonnes of earth need moved to rebuild the wall, extend the patio over to the studio and make it look nice (and reduce the amount that needs mowing). To do this a mini digger and mini dump truck is required.
To get the mini dump truck up and down the driveway and under the carport I needed to get my Alfa up and running again and there was also the small matter of the boat under the carport where it has rested for the winter. To get the boat away for a week or two I had to put it in the marina. Friends did offer to put it on their drive but if you have ever had builders in you know that a three day job can take 3 weeks through no fault of theirs. So rather than strain friendships into the marina it had to go.
Which meant it had to be launched in the harbour and sailed round to the marina, which meant the engines needed a service, the boat had to be anti foul painted, blah blah blah. Oh and I had to launch on a day that it wasnt blowing a force 9 and when the high tide coincided with non towing through peak traffic hours.
Add that in to previous workload, getting the new radharcimages site up and running and going through this blog changing all the photos and links to the new site and the small matter of being laid up with flu for a week (yes real flu, not man flu). Ive received the flu jab the last 3 years and in the last 3 years Ive got flu…. hmm…
The start of the boating season also coincided with the Irish Boat Jumble which is essentially a car boot sale for the sailing/boating crowd. Thats sort of where the similarity ends. You dont get many car boot sales where the vendors will accept credit cards! I had a couple of things to get to finish off the boat including an extra set of speakers (bought at a car boot sale for £2) and a front fender for the bow so that when I bounce it off the marina jetty, sorry bring it into its berth, I wont take any more of the paint off. I didnt get the fender at the boat jumble because they were looking more for a 2nd hand one than it would cost me to buy new! Recession? Obviously not.
It turned out to be a beautiful day down at Carrickfergus harbour to launch the boat and everything went according to plan. Even managed to take it out for a quick spin on the lough with some friends and it definitely feels better for both engines oil changed and a repainting of the anti foul on the hull. Its berthed in the marina for the next two months, after that who knows, travel plans may interrupt.
Certainly looking forward to lots of sunny days out in the lough trying to catch fish, but then again Ive always been an optimist!
At time of writing the mini dumper is making its noisy way up and down the drive taking away the last of the huge mountain of earth that has been removed. The concrete retaining wall foundations are laid and there should be a couple more working days left in sorting the garden out. Despite not being a gardener I am looking forward to seeing it done, getting the bbq up and running again and mornings sitting out on the patio with a coffee checking my emails on my tablet computer. I might be able to fit two of those days into our summer so I’ll keep you posted.
Its a strange time at the minute, with Easter being so late on in April, the small matter of a royal wedding and the May Day bank holiday the corporate bookings are very thin on the ground due to a lot of people taking a week or so off only using up a couple of days leave.
So maybe I’ll get the chance to enjoy the garden after all…
That is all! Well not quite – would be the shortest blog post ever.
Its taken quite a while to get the archive up to the site and I’ve also included some of my old Getty editorial photo sets for info purposes – I’ll finish off uploading the older sets over the next couple of days.
The most of the Ireland archive is now online and Ive made the conscious decision not to upload some photos and come counties as I’d like more complete coverage before making them go live so the plan for the rest of the ‘summer’ is to get a lot more coverage up of places and spread out into people and festivals. Oh and local food as well
I just have to go back through all the old blog posts and update the posts with the links to the new site. The smugmug version will be turned off in a fortnight.
So have a play with the new site, register online and let me know what you think. The main function at the minute is an online search with the ability to supply clients lightboxes of images I think they are interested in, as well as highlighting current image sets.
I’ll announce and describe the image sets here on the blog.
The website currently contains an archive of over 16k images and is in the process of google indexing every one of them so might be a bit slow whilst all that is getting done.
Normal lengthy blog service will soon be resumed!
I made a point when I first started this blog that I would never use it to talk about photo gear or equipment except to perhaps swear really loudly at something that didnt work the way I wanted it to. I have no intention of going against this idea except to say that I do briefly touch on it.
Last week I took a quick flight across the water to Liverpool for a couple of days and due to security restrictions and overall general paranoia, flying isnt the pleasure it used to be. So for a trip lasting 48 hours I wanted to travel as light as possible to keep within restrictive hand luggage restrictions. Im not exactly a tight arse but for 48 hours I dont want to spend 4 of that in check in queues and waiting at the baggage carousel.
Back in the day when I used to travel regularly I could turn up at an airport with bag 15 mins before the flight and just walk on. Even recently Ive taken a couple of 48-72 hour trips to the likes of Rome, Berlin, Krakow just for the purpose of taking photos, but in the last year or two it has just become a chore. I obviously dont have the dedication to queue in line to be the first irish suicide bomber! Besides which they still allow alcohol sales airside – isnt that flammable?
Anyway back to the hand luggage problem, for this trip I would be just using my Canon G9 and my tablet computer. Notice I said tablet computer (advent vega if you must know) rather than ipad. Not that Ive anything against the overpriced, under specced, restricted piece of male jewellry, I just want something that does everything I want it to and not what someone else says I need and not to bother about all that other stuff I dont really need as they know best.
There are always ongoing debates in photography about quality of equipment and how you dont need to spend a fortune on equipment to get good photos. I always tell my students that this is the case, with a large caveat. Its not necessary to have good equipment to get good photos but it is necessary to have good equipment to get consistently and repeatedly good photos.
Dont get me wrong I love my G9, Ive an underwater housing for it and its got me photos I normally wouldnt get but it is incredibly limited. People get tied up in the number of megapixels debate that camera companies bandy about like boys getting into a pissing up the wall contest (or something a lot less polite) without actually discussing the quality of those pixels.
Of course the overpowering argument is that why should I spend in excess of 50 thousand on equipment for a photography business when I could just buy a 500 quid compact and be done with it.
Come to think of it, why am I?
The advantage of using something like a G9 is that it generally doesnt attract the attention of the thought police, put on my rucksack, add trainers to a 40 year old(ish) man and and anorak and you can happily snap away looking like a complete loser. Change that to 10 grands worth of camera body and lens and its a short cut to a body cavity search.
Of course the converse argument is that with the high end kit people push their kids in front of the camera, with everything else they shy the kids away from the weird looking man.
Id given myself a brief of documenting the journey and trying to use the camera with the limitations it has. Namely that its crap. Ok thats being unfair, the photos would have limited editorial use, they couldnt be used in low light conditions as the quality would be too poor to pass any agencies quality control and the total frame would have to be used as resolution is small as it is. Going back to the quality of pixels argument the dynamic range of the small cameras is very poor, what that means is that it doesnt handle both bright light and darkness in the same photo too well. Well it does but instead of being able to sell the pictures, I would just call them ‘art’ and add to the vast majority of my art collection and the ‘if this sells I’ll buy my friends a pint’. One such image is one I took in a bluebell glade in a woodland. I was walking down the hill and went on my arse and skidded the whole way down. Of course reaction was to hold the camera in the air and inadvertently fire off 9 frames a second for the whole journey. So I picked one ‘abstract’ and put it up for sale. I owe several people pints if it ever sells.
A couple of current affairs issues were apparent, there were a number of people with big bags and one way tickets, signs of the recession here in Ireland and Ireland continuing with its greatest export, its people.
Then the usual of taking your water off you and then getting you to buy overpriced water airside which is a complete pain someone like me who is advised to take aspirin tablets to fly due to previous injuries and help avoid dvt. Security measure or profit making – hmmm maybe Bin Laden has shares in bottled water companies.
The journey was reasonably uneventful and quite painless thanks to the pre boarding cards so the blog represents a little storyboard of the up, down, turnaround come back trip.
From a technical point of view, the camera performed well but thats within very strict guidelines and limitations. If it was possible for me to sell 50 grands worth of camera equipment and just get away with a couple of compacts, then from a business perspective I would.
Of course thats not to say that images produced from compacts wont and dont sell, I’ve sold some compact images for reasonable prices but never for a double page spread or advertising use. I could argue that if the photo was really important then I wouldnt take it with a compact so how do I expect them to sell, or put another way, everything finds its price point.
Various stock sites sell images for a dollar or whatever the equivalent is, in the vast majority of cases the photographs are taken with cheap equipment and thats not knocking them, everything has a value and a price point but its unlikely to produce long term growth except for a chosen few mass producers. At the minute the UK editorial market (newspapers by and large) are paying a pittance for photos, so using compacts for this type of work seems to go along with the price point.
My issue is when other agencies sell images that take years of experience to produce, are researched well and are shot on high end equipment sell them for pennies regardless. There is a lesson to be learned there though, over the last 4 weeks I have been taking some photos with minimal setup (although still using high end camera and lens) to see how they get on with other agents in the uk market.
Not exactly a great plan of action but an interesting experiment in trying to tailor production costs for the price points. It will be interesting to see if on a per unit basis how they compare with the higher end production cost photos.
Speaking of experiments, I had planned a number of ‘Top Gear’ style photo challenges for last year which Ive moved back to this year, one of which was a travel from easterly point to westerly point in Ulster in one day (dawn to dusk around midsummers day) and take photos of each county inbetween along with sunrise and sunset (hopefully). The Top Gear show last night did the reverse in England, driving from west to east from dusk til dawn….
…watch this space.
The gig and album photos have all been to a particular brief, with his last gig, it was in May Street Church so it was a mixture of promotional music photographs as well as showing something of the architecture of this old church. We have another couple of shoots planned which will emphasise the irishness of his music but not in the traditional view of the green leprechaun view of irishness. Stephen is from Belfast and there is no doubt that all of us of the same age carry some baggage with regard to this place. Its a place we love but its also a place where a lot of people emigrate from for various reasons, a lot of it in the past has to do with the troubles.
Some of us also emigrate for good reasons and Stephen is one of them. He met his Canadian wife Tera in Belfast whilst she was in intern for the local ice hockey team. I used to be involved in the supporters club for the team and thats how I came know Tera and then Stephen. As with everything in this small place you find out friends and families are intertwined and the whole ‘I recognise you from somewhere but I dont know where’ comments. Particularly if you have never met before, ever!
You may wonder what Im rambling on about but a couple of years ago Stephen gave me an acoustic version of his song ‘Streets of Belfast’. I thought it was a great piece to put to an AV slideshow of images of Belfast and got to work. I put the video up on youtube and my website and really forgot about it.
In his new album Steven has re-recorded the “Streets of Belfast” with full production, so I thought I’d rework the photo and audio slideshow as well with more up to date photos of Belfast. Ive put it up on youtube once again and the link is below so get a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the next three and a half minutes (more later).
I was familiar with Streets of Belfast but I hadnt heard the rest of the latest album. Stephen like myself is fond of a long story or two so he was telling me about waiting for his flight home to Belfast before Christmas. As he was standing in the queue for check in, with all the thousands of people and delayed, cancelled flights, he saw a soldier in the queue in front of him. The guy probably had the dust from whatever combat area he had just come from still on him. Stephen overheard the guy saying something like ‘ma’am, I just want to get home’.
Looking from behind at his combat boots, camouflage trousers, kit bag, Stephen said he thought of me and said if I was there I would make a picture of that scene and it reminded him of his song on the new album ‘Leaving’.
So I got a copy of the album and it was a couple of days before I could sit down and listen to it properly. I played leaving over and over again. It tells something of a personal story for Stephen but it also rings true for many of us. Particularly poignant in the current economic climate in Ireland where once again we export our greatest natural asset, our people.
Of course its not just the physical act of leaving that the song applies to but for things like going to university, getting married etc.
Then it was a case of marrying the photos up to the video. It was an interesting project as the Streets of Belfast one was straightforward, tying the images there of a fixed place in with the song. The Leaving one had to have a good balance of not just Irish/Belfast images but also ones that would appeal on both sides of the Atlantic (and perhaps be recogniseable) as well as internationally.
As usual I put too many images in the original draft so there were a few refining emails then sending out the video to a few people to get their views. Ive included the final version below, hopefully it does the song justice, so go get another cup of tea or coffee and sit back and watch.
Well Halloween is over for another year. So the pumpkin pie, apple pie, monkey nuts, toffee apples and all sorts have been eaten, wee fingers have been burned with that destinctive white burn scar that only dark but still hot sparklers can leave and cows have to avoid eating the remnants of the new chinese lantern phenomenon. Lots of driving round this year and thinking WTF is that!
Its this time of year that we usually get an explosion of autumn colour about the place. Loads of memories of running up and down places like Lady Dixon, Shaws Bridge or the Falls Park kicking our way through the piles of dry dead leaves.
Memories of my dad coming home from work up at Stormont with a bag full of conkers. What we were to do with these we didnt know. Other than trying to make each other eat them or shove them up my sisters nose. Eventually we got a demonstration of the conker game where you thread the conker with string then beat each others conkers until they exploded in a mass of poisonous nut and spread about the place. At school some people would always win and then the secrets came out, put them in vinegar, bake them in the oven, varnish them and all sorts of failed remedies which usually including mixing up the instructions and generally causing some sort of minor fire alert, trip to casualty or waiting until next year to get more conkers.
Of course these days the health and safety killjoys wont let kids put each others eyes out, stuff house insulation down each others backs (we couldnt get itching powder) or throw bangers at each other. For some reason they think that natural selection should no longer be allowed to take its course, of course sparklers are still legal and I remember more burns and problems with them than anything else that has been banned.
Still back to the autumn colours, I was really looking forward to this years autumn colour and the odd chance, autumn might last longer than an afternoon to get out and get some photos. Last year autumn was a washout, rain and high winds put paid to the piles of dry dying leaves. One night, bang, they all came down, got wet and even I wouldnt have the cheek to try and make something out a pile of wet, sodden, mouldy leaves. Although to be fair that would probably be more of an approximation to autumn these days than the photos I do have. As I write there is about 2 inches of rain overnight and up to 30mph winds. That will be autumn gone for another year.
We often say that we get four seasons in one day here but last year autumn was about 4 days.
My one real photographic expedition last year was to whiteboard an attempt to become a nature photographer. Well I have these big long lenses, combat trousers, a copy of the SAS survival guide and a couple of flasks – how hard could it be?
I did my research and my target was the wee red squirrels, a dying breed apparently so I found out that Belvoir Forest Park has a fair size colony (or whatever the collective noun is – my research obviously didnt go that far) and there were a few other places but they were under the protection of the National Trust stasi (photography is verboten) or too far away.
I spoke to a few colleagues from around these islands who actually do know what they were doing and some advised going out and seeding out the area. Throw a few peanuts down in common areas and sit back with a pair of binoculars and watch before ever bringing the cameras.
I think they were taking the piss..
..or maybe they meant the non salted in a packet variety of peanuts…
Either way I just stood around getting cold and saying hello to a lot of old people out walking their dogs.
I refuse to be put off and I decided that it was a matter of timing. From my days on Safari it was obvious dawn and dusk were the best times to view wildlife.
So, next morning at 6am I was in the car and off to the park. By 7am I was sitting on my wee tripod stool, full covered in camouflage gear, poncho covering everything and a flask of coffee. My lens of choice was my 500mm and 1.4 convertor. Now, this is not a lens you want to be seen with wearing camouflage and sitting under the main flight path for Belfast City Airport. But hey..
So the mist cleared and the sun came up and people started to arrive walking their dogs.
It was then I realised that before long any movement I made would scare the living shit out of anyone walking past with their dog. Of course you cant fool dogs so people wondered why they were going over to smell this bush that smelt very much of coffee on a still crisp morning.
What do you do? Do you brave it out until everyone goes home or cough loudly, pack up and head back to the car, trying to avoid eye contact with the civilians and praying you dont actually meet anyone who knows you?
I chose the latter, packed up, tried to make everything as obvious as possible and had 4 squirrels run past me on the path back to the car. Not one of them was carrying any salted peanuts.
Still, I am undeterred and next time we get autumn that lasts more than a week I’ll give it another go. Or maybe I’ll start with something bigger and easier, like cows.
Getting back to this year I decided to go up to stormont to get some conkers for the nephews to give them a go at the conkers game. Didnt find a single one. Searched all day.
I went home and the next day had to return a library book for a friend who was on holiday. 2 horse chestnut trees outside the library. Stopped off for coffee with a friend on the way home. On the road outside her house there was a massive horse chestnut tree. The conkers were just lying there all over the road. I do now of course realise how odd it must have looked for a full grown man to be collecting conkers from the side of a country road as the school run traffic passed. Im sure thats just the type of behaviour parents warn kids about…
Ive been lucky this year, Ive been out and about and seen autumnal colours more than Ive seen here in years, so to finish heres a picture of Fanad Head lighthouse…
…nothing to do with autumn but I was up there last weekend and I’d never been…
…I will be back.
I know its a bit early but sure some shops have the Christmas stuff in already, but next weekend is Halloween. Halloween is one of those magical times of the year that have a lot of good childhood memories. Halloween is a big thing in Ireland, Americans only think they invented it but most of the traditions come from this wee place, well most are of celtic origin to do with the Samhain festival.
Of course we couldnt really celebrate a pagan festival of Samhain so we celebrate the catholic one of All Saints (1st November) or really we celebrate the evening of All Hallows Eve.
Taking it back to the 70s.. when I were a lad…
One of my first memories of Halloween was lying on our scullery (kitchen) floor in the dark with my sister (cant remember my brother being about) so I must have been 5 or under and my dad lighting a box of ‘indoor fireworks’. Now we werent allowed to have real fireworks, nothing to do with the big brother style health and safety lifestyles we have now but because people tended to scrape out all the good stuff, stick it in a metal pipe, light it and throw it at the nearest passing uniform. Probably why milkmen wore civilian clothes.
Going back to these ‘indoor fireworks’ the box was covered in surprised faces and pictures of bangs and explosions and all sort of wonderment. We now have an advertising body which stops such blatant lies. Remember as kids we had seen our fair share of real bangs and explosions, and they didnt compare to what I would describe as a worm falling out of burning toilet paper.
Even at 5 I knew these werent up to much so we just went back to burning our hands with sparklers that looked like they were out in the dark but which would still leave wee white intense burn marks on our fingers for weeks.
Sparklers. Yes whilst we were practically falling over packs of gelignite (thats another story) we were relegated for 17 years to just sparklers. Indeed it would be another 7 or so years before we could legally purchase fireworks and not pick them up off lorry drivers from Scotland at roundabouts or from the back of dark warehouses down in central Belfast in the wee small hours.
I never did this, people just told me about it. I would never buy illegal fireworks, split the boxes into two piles, one for us and the other to sell at twice the price to get our money back. No, that would be illegal.
Before this American pish of ‘trick or treat’ (more later) became ‘our’ culture, we had the ritual of ‘Halloweens coming on’. Which consisted of all us kids going round in small groups in what to todays kids might seem like rags and singing ‘Halloweens coming on and the goose is getting fat, would you please put a penny in the aul mans hat, if you havent got a penny a hapenny will do, if you havent got a hapenny then God bless you and your aul man too’. Now we knew what a penny was but a hapenny was something our Granny would go on about. Besides which no-one every gave you money. You cant eat money – dont be daft! Most times our costumes consisted of a sheet and a cheap plastic mask which never fitted your face and would cut the eyes out of you. I remember being about 12 and graduating onto a rubber skeleton mask which actually fitted my face. I thought it would be a great idea to put a torch down the front of my anorak shining the light up onto the skeleton face. A lot of the old folk had glass windows in their doors and them all being deeply religious and the fact it was also all souls eve probably led to most of them saying their final prayers and getting their coats.
The idea of the ghosts and ghouls, witches etc comes from the idea of the all souls eve where the souls of the dead were supposed to walk the earth, so we dress up to blend in. Quite where the ‘Scream’ masks come in is beyond me.
As Ive hinted most times we would go round collecting monkey nuts, oranges, apples and the odd fancy thing like chocolates, sweeties, and things like brazil and walnuts. The brazil and walnuts were exotic, although my dad insisted many times in getting us a coconut for halloween – I dont think thats an Irish thing unless the british stole all our coconut trees as well – wouldnt put it past them. Generally though giving us brazil nuts and walnuts was a waste of time as nutcrackers were probably yet to be invented and the two methods of opening anything were to hit it with a half brick or stab it with a hot poker. Both methods ensured I never tasted brazil nuts or walnuts until my early 20s.
After the rounds of the streets we’d go home for the Halloween party which consisted of dumping our swag onto the table and eating our way through it along with the obligatory fractured pieces of coconut and try to avoid the burnt bits.
Party games were the order of the day and there was the obligatory dunking for apples which was our old plastic bath filled with water and apples thrown in. The idea was to keep trying to take a bite out of the floating apples. Great craic and guaranteed a soaking. A version of this was to have one apple hanging from the ceiling on a string and try to do the same with arms tied behind our backs. Sod your nintendo DS, this was the best craic of the lot. There was an odd game with coins in the bottom of the bath which you had to get out using a spoon but only with the spoon in your mouth. I kept banging it off my teeth and wasnt too keen on that one.
Now, the lanterns. The legend Ive been told is that there was a guy called jack who used to traipse round the place with a lantern made out of an aul turnip with a bit of burning coal looking to take away souls or people, wander the earth like grasshopper or just generally get up to no good. The Jack of the lantern (jack-o-lantern) fame. So we would (or rather my dad would) carve a lantern out of a turnip and stick a candle in it and that would be for us to tell Jack to sling his hook. When the irish immigrants went to America they couldnt get turnips but the pumpkins were all round the place and they were bigger and easier to carve so thats where the pumpkin part comes from. Having spent the best part of today carving both for these photos I have to agree the pumpkin is a lot easier, less blood, less sweat but there will be tears if I dont sell any photos after all that.
We had all sorts of other things like toffee apples, which were just apples covered in toffee/candy with a stick stuck in them. Guaranteed to rot your teeth and probably break a few of them in the process.
Traditionally Halloween is also associated with bonfires in the rest of Ireland but in the west of Belfast we had enough burning going on around us so that sort of died out, but its something I try to revive every year in my own back garden (over a few whiskeys of course – health and safety be damned). You can take the boy out of the Falls…
Speaking of which, in my teens we would go up to Casement Park which had one of the few legal fireworks displays we could go to. Our equivalent of a bonfire. The bonfire night in England was moved from Halloween to 5th November because of that Guy Fawkes bloke.
Later on there was the annual trip up to Derry which does Halloween like no other place on earth. In the years I went up, if you didnt dress up, you were the odd one out. 100,000 people all dressed up roaming about the place has to be seen to be believed. What also has to be seen to be believed is the morning after the night before when full grown adults dressed as witches standing at bus and taxi stops with makeup all ran, clothes dischevelled. What were the up to?
Of course what goes on tour, stays on tour but on Halloween night you cant get a taxi for love nor money so being in a tired and emotional state I decided to walk back to my lodgings. This walk included walking over one of the city bridges and half way across I stopped to take in the view. A few seconds later I heard the ‘are you allright’ from behind me and there was one of the derry bridge rescue service or whatever their official title is, basically good natured souls who give up their time of an evening to stand on the bridges and try to convince people not to jump off. Fair enough I was standing there in black boots, huge black cape and a batman mask. My black eye makeup had long since ran down my face so yes I can see where he was coming from.
What he didnt bargain on was this wee female voice coming from inside my cloak saying ‘yes, we are ok, its just a bit cold’. I had decided to escort this young lady home that evening and she was dressed as a genie or something, well she was wearing very little and although I was carrying her on my back, she was almost blue by the bridge so she was wrapped up in the cloak.
Im sure that guy has seen worse…
Nowadays we get kids coming round doing ‘trick or treat’ which consists of them putting in sod all effort or the rich kids in their full costumes bought somewhere off the net (yes I have to say my darth maul and batman costumes are the same), rapping the door and just grunting and sticking their hand out for cash. Now. Lets just say I firmly believe in earning your pay, so a wee song or a dance would suffice, or even part of a one act play or dance installation isnt really asking too much. Im sorry but ‘trick or treat’ is very likely to be met with the equivalent of ‘bah humbug’ or ‘F**k off’ as its known.
Oh and when I open the door and hand over handfulls of nuts, satsumas or sweeties and some wee shit says ‘is that all, wheres the money’, they are likely to be stabbed. Glad to say though that the trainee drug dealers are in the minority and they are outnumbered by the large numbers of well mannered kids who are just happy to get anything. I dont remember my mum and dad accompanying us round the doors and this was a time of bombs and bullets flying more than fireworks, so I’ll not take it as an insult when the dad stays at the bottom of my drive just to check if Im a child molester or not.
For the record Im not.. well.. not in the way it sounds.
2 years ago one of the charm school rejects decided that a couple of peanuts and an orange wasnt enough so he decided to do the ‘trick’ part and hit my window with an egg. Now. Most kids would run away and not stand at the bottom of the drive to laugh and taunt the hapless house owners. Also standing there with a box of a dozen eggs, half used tells me this guy isnt the sharpest tool in the box.
Of course this educationally sub normal cretin doesnt realise that for every action theres an equal and opposite reaction but this reaction wasnt exactly equal. Trick or treat cuts both ways so the collection of already filled water balloons I had behind the door came in handy and I even surprised myself the feracity and accuracy of this particular barrage.
Now lets be honest whilst this behaviour was probably socially acceptable in my late teens, even through uni days, its not really expected from a then nearing 40 ‘aul fella’. Still, what can you do.
Whilst I now fully relish the ‘grumpy aul man’ moniker, I reserve the right to stop traffic next week and stand in the middle of the street and have a full on lightsabre battle with one of my mates. Of course we are just doing it for the kids/nephews/bystanders benefit…..
…sure where else would you get it. Halloweens coming on…
Its been a while since my last blog but in my defence Ive been busy and its been a bit of a career landmark.
In my previous life I was a software engineer and I studied at Queens University Belfast for four years, first doing a BEng (batchelor of engineering) degree and then an MSc (Master of Science) degree.
My first job was in a local software company and I then went on to work in 2 more software companies before a change in circumstances brought about a change in Career after 9 years as an Engineer. In 2001 I took my first photography job working for a local photographer before going it alone a year or so later.
So in late September 2010 I am now a photographer longer than I ever was a Software Engineer yet I have just completed part of a commission for companies involved in Software Engineering. Not quite poacher turned gamekeeper and yet not quite a busmans holiday either. It was good to catch up with old colleagues and catch up quickly, far too quickly, with the old profession and its current issues.
Deep down Im still an engineer, I’ve always been an engineer which is a strange thing to say in this profession, but Ive always had an artistic side as well. That was never able to manifest itself fully in my previous career yet the era of digital photography, website generation, online marketing, email, ftp, image editing and distribution and all those good things keep the engineer in me happy.
Ive always been a problem solver and one of my first jobs in software was in a team tasked with ‘firefighting’ the ‘hot issues’ of the day. Now I dont miss the management speak, particularly as since then I’ve taken photos of real firefighters and whilst Im not wishing to denigrate my previous profession, the words used are incongruous with the job.
Through my later jobs I got involved in recruitment, customer bids and processes, corporate training, writing specifications, interpreting client briefs, investigating client issues and dealing with clients across the globe. I cant really say my job as a photographer is any different to that with all those skills being very portable indeed and just applied to different areas.
Perhaps thats why I have grown and progressed the business, because I brought those skills with me and adapted them. Maybe its just coincidence but either way it didnt do me any harm.
The access all areas press, red carpet and general swanning around with the gorgeous people isnt really the image you think of sitting outside a hotel in dublin in the snow at 1am as you try to wire your photos into an office on the west coast of the states.
Bit like my last couple of software jobs were we had US offices and you were on call until 2am in case any problems arose. Of course in one job we also had offices in the Phillipines and Australia. What do you mean you arent available 24/7? No different to now when people from all across the globe who are on deadlines and who want photos asap dont really care what timezone you are in. ‘Im just ringing to see if you are in?’ ‘yes its 4am, where else would I be’. ‘Can you email me this photo?’, ‘Yes, as soon as I get my eyes open I’ll be on to it – oh and you will need to pay in advance by paypal’. Sounds very glamourous indeed
When I tell people what I do, particularly those in IT professions they say they long for a job where they arent sitting in front of a computer all day and dont have to pull all nighters. Wishing away the long winter nights sitting at 2am trying to find a pizza place open in Belfast…
Well sorry folks I have news for you, I was up at 8am and its 12am now and Im still at the computer, writing a blog no less During that time I had to run to the doctors as I did ankle ligaments in at the weekend. Sorry, no sick leave or sick pay here its put up or shut up.
One of the biggest wrenches for me was the leaving a very well paid, stable job with holidays, and sick pay and healthcare and overtime and… …and then I remember being paid to take photos of naked women on a beach in Tenerife mid January…. …money isnt everything.
I love my job and I hope that shows. I loved being an engineer, I just didnt particularly enjoy the environment but looking back on it I had had my time and it was time for something different. Im now at the same stage in my photography career but I dont have the same urges. Maybe its got to do with reinvention and changing business approach every few years.
Some photographers try to blame the GWC idea – guy with camera. It appears that anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer, couple of hundred quid on a camera, 6 quid for printable business cards and 30 quid for a cheap website and away you go, you are doing weddings but I remember people who had a home computer calling themselves computer programmers and asking if I could sort them out with a job. No different and that doesnt give any credit to clients who should be able to look at a photographers website, look at the images, the craft in the photos and the message behind the photography to differentiate between the chancers and the people who will build a relationship.
I learned that in my IT days when dealing with clients, it was about building relationships, getting a bond of mutual trust instead of trying to sell them something. Yes you are still selling but you are selling them something that will benefit them, which in turn will benefit you, everyones happy. I try to do that with the photography and that has been borne out by the number of long term clients I have and equally the long term relationship they have with me. They know they can ring me at 11pm and that I will take their calls because its probably important, important to them, their business and ultimately their families and lifestyle. You do go the extra mile for people you have a relationship with and its that closer bond I like with being self employed rather than working for a large corporation. Of course I could have got that within the IT industry by setting up myself there, but then again Ive seen people in tears holding their daughters wedding photos or getting their baby to smile on camera or a public relations person ringing me to thank me for getting their company in the paper with a good photo. No-one ever congratulated me on a line of C code, or a good subroutine in COBOL or sorting out a java error.
I started radharcimages because it interested me, right at the start of a recession when the market for the type of photos I was producing for it had started drying up, so its on hold, not cancelled. It will be resurrected occasionally although if climate change has its way all the pictures will have to be retaken to reflect our monsoon seasons.
Ive no idea what the next 9 weeks will bring never mind the next 9 years. In 9 years time if Im still here I’ll be approaching 50 and who knows I might have bought myself a pair of braces, grown a big belly and taken up wedding photography full time. Maybe I’ll actually buy a euro millions rollover ticket next week, win it and then head off round the world in a very big boat.
It really is up to me, its about trying to predict the future, I will live or die by my own decisions and I have no-one to blame but myself. Perhaps thats the key, thats the reason why Im still up writing a blog at 12am, or maybe Im just nuts.
Either way its going to be interesting…
…and isnt that what its all about.